MMO Rant #14: Time as Gameplay

Man oh man, has it been a while since my last good, solid rant. Ranting is generally a lot easier when you’re pissed off about something, and I’m not. Well, not really. But it does really irk me when designers try to pass off time as gameplay. “Hey buddy old pal, I need you to take this to some random place 15 minutes away.” *30 minutes later* “Thanks for taking that to the random place! Here’s a crappy reward that is worth less than if you’d decided to grind for 30 minutes instead of wasting your time!”

Pretty annoying, isn’t it? That’s because it’s not fun. What is more valuable than anything to a player? Time. What should designers not be wasting? Brain power on good quests. Oh wait, no. The correct answer was, “a player’s time.” Time is a player’s most valuable asset, and it’s our job as game designers not to waste it.

Now, I’m not saying that travel time should not exist. On the contrary, I quite like travel time. But it can and should be used in the right ways, such as to create a sense of scale in the world, help form micro-communities, and a few other reasons that I already talked about (so I won’t talk about them again here. Also, this is a rant, not a lesson).

Back to me being frustrated. I like to think that some things annoy me more as a gamer/game designer than a lot of other people. It pisses me off when I’m given a quest to go waste my time in a game, so that’s strike 1. But it also offends me as a game designer because it makes the rest of us look bad when other designers try to pass off time-wasters as quests, so that’s strike 2. What’s strike 3? Both of them combined annoy me one full extra time over for the final strike.

It’s not just quests that waste a player’s time. It’s raid instances that are full of 5 hours of fodder and 30 minutes of fun. Time is not gameplay. It’s making a player sit around for 10 minutes after they die before they can be effective again. Time is not gameplay. It’s making crafting a single item take a couple minutes of watching your screen before you get anything useful or even really interact. Time is not gameplay.

There’s a hell of a lot of time wasters in MMOs. I understand, it’s hard to fill a game up with a lot of fun for a lot of hours. I’ve been there. I am there. I’ll be there. But, I also believe that cherishing a player’s time is an important way to enable them to have fun in the game.

For you critics out there, time wasters aren’t in a game to keep players subscribed longer. You don’t have to waste a player’s time to keep them subscribed, they have to have fun, get connections with the community, and experience all of the good aspects of MMOs (not the time wasters).

Stop trying to pass off time as gameplay. It isn’t fun.

17 Responses to "MMO Rant #14: Time as Gameplay"

  1. horder

    Imagine what it will be like when in-game advertising is more prevalent. All that dead air time is gold to advertisers. Ads during travel. Ads while crafting something. Ads at auction houses. Mandatory 60 second ads before facing a boss (the time when they’ve really got your undivided attention). Catalogues delivered to your in-game mailbox. In reality, I doubt they’d do much of this b/c it’d be suicide for player retention levels, but I wouldn’t be surprised if someone tried it out.

  2. [...] February 6, 2008 I like this guy. His rant today is hammer-smashing-nail-head. [...]

  3. What’s even worse is when you get back to that orginal quest giver and he says: “Oh hey, you know what? I forgot to give you the other item. Can you go back over there again for me?”

    One of the things WoW really screwed up on in the mid levels imo is lots of extremely lazy and super forgetful quest givers. I guess them being such losers helps explain why the rewards were so bad (not as bad now that they upped all low level quest xp).

  4. For you critics out there, time wasters aren’t in a game to keep players subscribed longer. You don’t have to waste a player’s time to keep them subscribed, they have to have fun, get connections with the community, and experience all of the good aspects of MMOs (not the time wasters).

    Oh thank you Jesus. This is 100% truth. Players can come up with their own things to do without being forced to grind for hours and hours for something silly and trivial.

  5. JuJtsu

    “Players can come up with their own things to do without being forced to grind for hours and hours for something silly and trivial.”

    I went back and double & triple checked. Grinding was never mentioned explicitly, the closest equivalent was “It’s raid instances that are full of 5 hours of fodder and 30 minutes of fun”. I won’t deliver up an AMEN until plain vanilla grinding is explicitly dissed ;)

  6. Brel the Next

    One of the worst things in World of Warcraft is what must be a design credo to make at least 25 percent of the quests send you to some stupidly faraway location for no real point at all. They should just delete all of those cruddy quests and notch up the quest experience by a little bit for the rest of them.

  7. I am a strong advocate of chocolate grinding with Oreos and whipped cream.

  8. Kinetic

    I think you have to consider that MMOs such as WoW that are explicitly trying to co-exist in the Asian market also (arguably) have to appeal to the kind of gamer that enjoys mindless grinding. As I’m sure you know, some of the most successful MMOs in the asian market are unbelievable grindfests with relatively stiff penalties for player-death. Trying to satisfy players who want to grind in a PCBang until they are numb while not making your NA/EU market upset (some members of which complain that the death penalty in wow is harsh) is a tall order. I’m not saying it can’t be done better, but it’s a tall order none the less.

    I think the progression of Jeff Kaplan experimenting with (time based) content pacing in WoW’s endgame has been pretty interesting. Tier2′s end boss was capped at 1 attempt per day. Tier2.5′s end boss was not capped, but they made time between wipe and next attempt 15-20min due to sheer travel distance. Add to that the gating to open the entire dungeon being a 3-6 month server-wide farming event. Tier3′s end boss was gated by another boss which required repeated(capped by instance reset timers) farming of hundreds of ingredients from lower area of the dungeon. Tier5 was paced by grinding reputation in the lower instances, and Tier6 by limiting the drop rate of attunement items from tier5 end bosses. It appears Tier6.5 will be gated by the entire server grinding daily quests – a much less transparent metric and thus easier to adjust than the Tier2.5 event for low pop servers.

    All of those gating mechanisms have been removed over time, and thus the vast majority of the playerbase never runs into those hurdles – they never actually get to run into the endgame of WoW at all anyway, but that is an entirely seperate failure. The really intense delay mechanisms are meant solely for the players spending all day slamming up against the edge of content, like Kaplan used to do in EQ1.

  9. My biggest gripe with EverQuest was something really, really simple that not a lot of people noticed as a “bad” thing. When SOE decided to add “gems” to their game, that was when I realized this wasn’t the game for me. If you need to add a game to your game just so I have something to keep me entertained during downtime, I really need to be doing something else with my time.

    The thing about it is, most MMOs dont exist in a vacuum. Right across the room from my PC, I have my PS3 hooked up and running. Within seconds I can be online playing first person shooters or even the PS3 brand of MMOs – WarHawk. Instant rewards, very little time sink, no monthly fees. MMO designers should learn from the “console” model and offer more content up front and not worry about the “diehards” that accomplish everything the game has to offer in one or two sittings. The vast majority of players are not that person (anyone know the percentage of people who have actually seen Illidan? No, WCIII doesn’t count…)

    Having said that, WOW is quite possibly the best MMO to date in terms of time versus reward. There is literally something for everyone, and having played EQ, then SWG, then EQ2 for years, I think I’m qualified to comment here. The quests in WOW are actually far more fun than the “quests” in any of SOE’s offerings. In WOW at least I feel as though I’m actually able to accomplish something. I’m all for the community aspect of the game, but after spending all that time getting my Necro his epic and all the best gear, getting wiped out by a single green con mob was not only frustrating, but embarrassing to try and explain to people who didn’t play the game.

    Don’t get me started on FFXI…

  10. Yeah I always thought that poorly designed quests were one of the things that made travel time so annoying for some players.

    Threat of Travel Times

  11. Ooo very good, very good.

    I never really made the connection between time-wasting quests and the writers/devs who design the quests. Odd isn’t it? It would certainly be a great standard to see raised in the development community. Quality over quantity ftw!

  12. “But, I also believe that cherishing a player’s time is an important way to enable them to have fun in the game.”

    That line sums up the single most important lesson that I took from the MUD and Everquest days.

  13. When SOE decided to add “gems” to their game, that was when I realized this wasn’t the game for me. If you need to add a game to your game just so I have something to keep me entertained during downtime, I really need to be doing something else with my time.

    I know a number of people who said the same thing, but from my perspective, gems wasn’t needed because I never had true downtime unless I decided I wanted downtime. For me, time between pulls and fighting was spent either a) exploring the new area because as the monk/puller I needed to find out how the zone worked, or b) chatting with people, be it friends in tells, the group, the guild or just in the OOC channel. I’ve said it before and I will continue to say it, but for me what drove me away from WoW was the silence… it lacks a lot of the social aspect of EQ because they have eliminated most of the “downtime” to the point where the group is almost always moving and fighting.

    And Ryan… every time you post one of these, I imagine there is a guy out there (probably a few) furiously making notes and keeping track, and should the game 38 Studios released violate any of your rules, you are going to catch a lot of hell for it. :)

  14. Yes, there will be someone parsing all of my posts to try and create the game that they think we’re making at 38 Studios. If they use all of the posts, there is a 100% chance that they’ll be wrong about the game that actually comes out.

    Sometimes, my opinions change over time and things I said even a few months ago could be different from what I’d say now. That’s a good thing for the life of the blog, because I can talk about the same stuff multiple times and will often contradict my past self.

    Sometimes, I give my personal preferences rather than what I think would be right for a specific type of game. Some things I preach don’t apply to, say, a Free-for-All PvP Destruction Derby game. Whatever is right for the game we’re making is what will be implemented, regardless of my personal preferences.

    Sometimes, my ideas will get trumped. There are often other ways to do things than what I feel we should do that are equally viable for the game. Since I’m not the god of game design (well, sure I am, but not according to my position at the company), I can’t always get my way (this is probably a good thing).

  15. There’s a good example of this in Everquest 2. In the Darklight Woods noob zone, there is a quest to take a leash and fetch 3 baby bears for this NPC. You have to make three trips down the road to get the non-aggro bears in a non-aggro area of the zone. There is no danger or skill associated with the act, and while I was doing it (twice, because “hello, my name is Paul and I have a Altohol problem”) I was thinking about this exact thing.

  16. Teronicus

    I hate the darn quest in EQ2 in the Enchanted Lands where you have to kill 10 of those Void Shrieker bat things flying around his wagon and then you go back to the guy and he makes you go back and kill 10 more! DAMN YOU! Why not just say 20 at the start?

  17. [...] I like this guy. His rant today is hammer-smashing-nail-head. [...]

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